Is Your Open House In The NWMLS For ALL To See?

FrontThe last few weeks have been extremely busy open house wise for us in Seattle – mostly in the $400,000 and under price range or close to it.  Agent hits on the NWMLS for those listings has also soared and the web traffic in general has increased for this price point.   The buyers are definitely out there poking around!

Many of  my recent open house visitors have been Redfin buyers.  They seem to expect to be treated poorly by other agents at opens.   Maybe this is just my own perception, but they are physically cringing upon entrance.  I guess it could be my outfit or my hair, but more likely it must have to do with the typical reception a Redfin buyer might get.  The point of an open house has always been for the hosting agent to meet, network, and possibly pick up new clients.  Although it is also great exposure for the listed property, very rarely does the open house sell the home – at least it didn’t used to

Enter Redfin. 

Redfin arguably has one of the nicest real estate search websites and their open house feature is probably second to none.  I can’t keep up with their changing business model and have no idea how effective or not they are for their clients, but do love their site and always welcome Redfin buyers to my open houses.  Redfin buyers seem to almost always be actively looking for a home.  They meticulously schedule and map out the open houses they plan to visit and they come with questions prepared.  In short, they are serious.

One little problem: 

Open houses that show up on the site are swept from the NWMLS when a listing agent enters the information in the “public open houses” field of their listing and not all listing agents do this.  Some companies prefer to hold on to that information and only enter their open houses on their corporate site alone.   Soon enough, though, most agents will hopefully catch up and realize that not entering their opens for all to see is a disservice to the seller.    Just looking at Seattle stats alone in the NWMLS, Redfin has sold 62 residential properties and 9 condos since the beginning of the year.  Redfin buyers are clearly putting a dent in the inventory. 

Redfin aside, it is just smart business and good representation to enter your open house into the NWMLS so that you expose your seller’s property to as many potential buyers as possible.

Tracking Homebuyer Activity

Last week an agent said to me, “I have had the same 6 or 7 buyers and sellers for the last 4 months.”  Reminded me of a waitress who couldn’t “turn a table” because the same people stayed all night long.

I decided to track homebuyer activity to see how many buyers who have been looking at homes for the last 30 days or so, have purchased one.  The little blue box on the doors of homes for sale tells us which agents have shown the property.  If you take that agent’s code number and plug it into the MLS, you can tell if that agent is involved in a pending or closed transaction in the same period of time. It’s not an exact science, but let’s see what we can find out.  As usual, I’m doing this in real time by tracking the agents as I write the post.

I pulled the records of 6 of my listings and the 56 showings by 48 agents they have had in the last 30 days or so.  34 of those 48 buyers have bought nothing. 2 bought my listings.  12 bought other properties (see below).  One of my listings in escrow during the same timeframe was purchased by the neighbor, so that pending transaction had no agent showing.  I’m not counting the times I showed the property myself or people who came through during an Open House.

Agent #1 showed the property 3 X in 2 days.  If you take the code # of the agent and plug it into the system, you will see that two days later that agent opened an escrow on a property that cost $250,000 more on a similar house nearby.

From that we can assume that the buyer of Agent #1 was weighing the choice of buying a fixer or spending $250,000 more for a similar home assessed for only $25,000 more.  It’s not unusual for someone to want a home that needs no work.  But spending $250,000 more to get one, is not all that common.  Especially one that doesn’t have more bedrooms or more bathrooms or much more square footage and is not in a better location.

Agent #3 showed the property twice and then the buyer purchased a newer townhome on the Eastside instead of a fixer single family home in Seattle.  This buyer spent $100,000 less.

Agent #5’s buyer bought my listing in Rivertrail in Redmond.

Agent #16’s buyer bought the house behind my listing in Seattle on a 2,800 sf lot vs. a 5,000 sf lot, listed for $6,000 less.  The price differential could have been $20,000 at the time.  I have to check the date of the showing vs. the date of the price change and the date the home behind it went into escrow.

Agent #19’s buyer bought a single family home in Downtown Kirkland vs. a townhome in Redmond for almost double the price.  (This one is more likely a different buyer with the same agent. Most of the agents listed as their buyer buying “Nothing” are agents who sold nothing at all, so it’s easier to be almost positive.  Though those 34 buyers could have bought something with a different agent, that’s not likely given the short timeframe tracked.

Agent #21s buyer went further south and bought a single family home instead of a condo for about $20,000 more.

Agent #22s buyer bought an “income qualified affordable ARCH” condo.  $20,000 more for twice the size and 1 additional bedroom.

Agent #24s. buyer bought a new townhome instead of an older craftsman that needed updating.

Agent #25s buyer spent $100,000 more and bought a house that needed less work.

Agent @26s buyer bought a condo in Capitol Hill vs. a fixer home in Green Lake.

Agent #28s buyer bought a newer home further away from Microsoft for $25,000 more (Newcastle)

Agent #36s buyer bought a new townhome (instead of an older SFH) further north in Seattle for $100,000 less.

Agent #37s buyer went to Shoreline vs. Green Lake and spent $100,000 less for a house that needed less or no work.

Agent #40s buyer bought my listing in Bellevue.

While I don’t intend to replace OBEO as “the expert in buyer behavior”, being able to track what buyers are actually doing, is a useful tool. This ability is only recent, as NWMLS just added the “selling agent” code ID to the data entered when registering a pending or closed sale.  It was the first (and only) thing I complained about back in 2004, and the change took place in June or July of 2008.  Many could not see the need to post the Buyer Agent info when recording a sale.

This feature offers an enormous advantage to our seller clients, who can now track via their listing agent, what the buyer did or didn’t do after seeing their home.

For listing agents, just write down the LAG# (agent code) of agents who show your listings.  Then you can track to see if they are putting anything at all into escrow…or not.  By seeing what the buyer chooses, you can determine if you need a price change, or if you need to make some condition improvements to your current listings.  There’s not much you can do if people don’t want a fixer and choose a new townhome instead. So before reducing the price based simply on time on market, assess the actual situation as carefully as possible.

Interesting side issues:

1)  Three of the agents are no longer agents at all, so I can no longer track them.  Showed my listing and then quit the business altogether 🙂

One of the agents’ buyers bought a Downtown Condo that had been on market for 4 1/2 months with no price reductions. Knowing WHY buyers are not choosing the property, by tracking their movements, can help owners decide whether you need to wait it out at the same price, or reduce the price.

Don’t buy into an automatic reverse auction of reducing the price every X days. Track what those buyers are doing, and plan and change your strategy accordingly.  A lower price isn’t going to turn a fixer craftsman into a new townhome.  Sometimes waiting longer for the right buyer IS the answer.  But if people are buying similar homes nearby for less…then a price reduction is in order.

Who Should Get Out Of The Real Estate Business?

Dustin, Jillayne, Rhonda, Galen and I were all in San Francisco for a few days for The Inman Connect Conference.  One of the most profound and spot on statements I heard at the Conference was “If you do not have a listing, right now, in THIS market (top-heavy with inventory)…turn in your license!”. Sorry I can’t remember who said it.  In fact I think it was a woman in the audience and not on one of the panels.  But how TRUE is THAT!  With inventory at all time highs, can you say you are a real estate agent if you have NO listings?! I thought that was a punch in the glass jaw to some of the agents milling around the conference.

The highlight of my trip was when Pete Flint of Trulia came over to me at the Better Homes and Gardens Soiree and handed me his card.  He recognized me from Trulia Voices 🙂  I gained a huge respect for him given our conversation.  We were talking about Trulia Voices vs. Zillow Q & A, and I was impressed with his sincere level of interest in opinions on the subject. Trulia had the best party, BTW.  A funny in the Trulia Voices link up there.  One of the agents immediately gave my response a “thumbs down”, while at the same time the person who asked the question voted it as Best Answer.  Oh well, you can’t please everyone.

I still feel guilty about keeping Marc Davison of 1000 Watt Blog up so late that he missed his Panel Moderation the next morning.  Brian Boero filled in for him. Officially the reason for his missing the panel was related to his recuperation of severed finger.  But I can’t help but feel that had I let him get a little more sleep the night before, he might have made it.  Yet, I can’t say I’m sorry for detaining him for so long…I just didn’t want to let him go.  He’s an amazing person.

I’m hoping Inman or Sellsius will post a video of the panel I was on, moderated by Joe Ferrara.  I was a little nervous about being on a panel with THREE attorneys!  Russ Cofano, Joe Ferrara the moderator and the woman from NAR. I was told afterward that something I said was Twittered into cyberspace instantaneously. Not sure what it was…I wasn’t Twittering on my iPhone while speaking on the panel. I got visibly annoyed with Todd Carpenter during the discussion (sorry Todd). The Panel was on “How Not To Get Sued” as a blogger.  Todd was basically saying to be nice and avoid controversial topics.  But Russ and I had a really nice conversation and rapport on stage. (No Tim, no Punch and Judy show.)

I was the only one in the room that clapped for Frank Llosa on “The Future of the MLS” panel when he spoke of the button next to the Listing Agent info that explains why, as a buyer, you might not want to call the Listing Agent. Here’s a quote from Frank’s website that will give you an idea of why I like him ”

“TRUST ME, I’M A REALTOR” Yeah Right! When was the last time a REALTOR talked you OUT of buying a house or condo?…”

The big “visual event” of the trade show was a new Franchise called “BUG Realty”. “At Bug!…We are the “no hype,

Need cash flow? Don't be afraid of unpopular sales and…

mobile home
……..selling uncoventional listings otherwise known in the real estate world as “Mobile Homes.”

You think to yourself…pshttt. Yeah, you laugh. You say, “whatever. That’s not going to make me a listing star or a top producer!”

Guess again. You may find this hard to believe, but one of the top two producing agents (in both sales and commissions paid out of our escrow office, I believe two years running) who uses our office to close mobile homes, comes in to collect commission checks darn near every week. Sometimes more than once a week. Sometimes, three a week. This unassuming agent is in our office so often we nearly gave ’em a desk and phone. (ok, not quite).

It is not unusual for the agent to stop in with two transactions on Wednesday and say, “let’s close these by Friday.” Sounds good to us.

Don’t discount this lucrative market. The sales are closed as fast as the parties can make it to our office to sign their paperwork. Two thousand dollars here, three thousand dollars there…it all adds up to well into the six figures in earned commissions. For crying out loud, wouldn’t you like a transaction that can close just about as fast as popcorn pops in the Microwave!

Photos are worth 1,000 words (and a lot of money too)

We “dog food” our real estate search product at Estately (we use it like a consumer): I subscribe to a couple of daily email alerts, a constantly updating RSS feed showing properties as they come onto the market near my house, and I subscribe to a feed of my saved homes to see when they sell.

Today two properties came on the market (welcome to Seattle prices, out of towners!):

$720,000 3 Beds / 2.25 Baths / 15 photos / 1,412 sqft / $509 per sqft
$729,000 0 Beds / 0 Baths / 0 photos / 1,700 sqft / 2,400 sqft lot / $428 per sqft

I didn’t even look at the second property – really, what’s the point? Like most buyers, I’m driven by emotion. I click through photos pretty much as fast as they load until one catches my eye, I linger, something about the property gets past my reptilian complex and I actually consider the details. Good agents know this on both sides; they take fantastic, eye catching photos or hire a professional to do so. Some of our Agent Match clients have found that they overlooked a great property with bad photos until they were dragged there by their agent and at least one was pleased to find that bad photos and staging could cost a seller upwards of $25,000.

If you are a consumer selling your house, dog food it. Subscribe to a daily email of new homes for sale for a month or two before you list your house and see what catches your eye. It’ll make “decluttering” easier.

If you are a realtor who works with sellers, dog food it. Sign up for a daily email from your company’s website. If your listing doesn’t look good there, you’ve lost a lot of the buyers who are currently in the market. You missed your chance to catch their eye and they’ve moved on to Craigslist. Maybe you can have a second shot at impressing them there.

A Fistful of Feeds

The man with no nameCue up the Ennio Morricone music and head for the hills! There’s been some recent talking among the town folk, about the feeding frenzy that’s happening out there on the wild web of the west. Let’s just say San Miguel will never be the same once the schema with no XSD enters town.

Just when you thought it was safe in digital listing land, it’s going to get a little wilder. You see, Jesse ‘Zillow’ James has got a new six shooter and is getting ready to take your listings, publish them for the world to see, and give the town sheriff something else to think about. Right now, Jesse is just at target practice, but high noon at the O.K. Corral is coming soon enough.

Even better, Jesse has been taking marksmanship lessons from Wild Bill Gates’ old play book. It’s every bit as clever as the lead shield old Clint used in the movies. You see, Zillow’s doing 2 things which show they’ve learned the “embrace and extend” tactics from yesterday’s web slinging masters.

First, Zillow is embracing Trulia’s feed format – This move means that anybody who already has a Trulia listings feed will be able to get their listings onto Zillow with than less than 10 minutes of effort (the amount of time it takes to fill out a form with your feed url). It’s entirely possible that by doing this, Trulia’s feed format will become the “de-facto” industry standard. (Which wouldn’t be all bad)

Secondly, Zillow’s extending the purpose of Trulia’s format, by coming out with their own feed format – OK, some of you are already thinking, oh great, another XML format I need to implement and support. However, I think Zillow will be able to garner support for their ZIF format because of the following reasons.

  1. Their spec is simple to understand. Unlike GoogleBase & edgeio, which seem to be trying to win an Obfuscated XML code contest with their name spaced RSS mess, Zillow’s feed documentation is every bit as clear as the current industry feed leader, Trulia.
  2. Their spec is comprehensive. The only industry schema that compares to the breadth and depth of the Zillow’s XML Schema is RETS. Except Zillow has the benefit of not having to getting 900 MLS boards to play nice together.
  3. Doc ‘Trulia’ Holliday is not dumb. A master gun fighter in his own right, nothing is preventing Trulia from embracing the Zillow feed standard as their V2 spec. If that happens, RETS may suffer the same fate as Lester Moore. Out here on the wild web of the west, there’s the quick and the dead.
  4. Oh yeah, they also get about 4+ million monthly visitors on their web site.

Anyway, grab the popcorn; it’s going to be show!

Why FSBO without putting it in the MLS?


Last week, a Seattle-area woman contacted us out of the blue asking if we advertise FSBOs and FSBO open houses on ShackPrices (we don’t), which led to a back-and-forth exchange that went sort of like this:

Me: Out of curiosity, why don’t you list your home in the MLS for $400 and get a lot more exposure? If you’re worried about the 2% – 3% commission, just mark it up that much.

Her: It’s sort of an experiment.

Me: Ah.

Me (in my mind):A $400,000 experiment that will probably result in significantly less exposure for your home and probably result in a longer time to sell (and result in continued payments during that time!) at the very least? Skip the experiment, list it on the MLS and buy yourself a new (if inexpensive) car with the money you are likely going to lose!

Yesterday an even better solution for FSBOs popped up: lets you list your house on the MLS for free. Experiments aside, it makes a lot of sense if you’re a FSBOer to get your property in the system that almost every home buyer looks to for listing information.

Do not be offended, dear real estate agent reader. This free listing service, which is apparently a slap in the face of real estate agents, is actually a backhanded compliment. IggysHouse claims to be offering this just so FSBOers will consider their buyer agent service, but it’s clear that they are convinced they can sell those FSBOers on other products and services and that a decent percentage of their FSBO listers will be convinced to work with an agent when they don’t find success going alone or have trouble getting through the close or negotiating with someone who has done it 100 times before.

Update: Greg Swann thinks Iggy’s House will make money from mortgages.

Adventures in digital listing land

Recently, one of my clients (Real Property Associates) asked me to automate the process of submitting (or advertising) their real estate listings and rental properties on Trulia, Google Base, and Craigslist. After implementing the feature, I thought sharing my experiences would a make an interesting blog post. (So here we are)…

[photopress:Feed_1_2.gif,full,alignright]As you may know, there are 2 ways of getting your listings on Trulia. The easiest is just to let Trulia crawl your site. Unfortunately this method doesn’t work very well since there are an infinite number of ways to present listings on a web page, and Trulia’s engineers haven’t been able to spend the requisite infinite amount of time required to handle all the cases. This isn’t a knock on Trulia, since Google Base doesn’t even attempt to do this, but just a reminder that there are a lot of things software just can’t do yet. If this method works for you, your lucky.

The recommended way is far more reliable. You merely need to host an XML file on your web site that contains the listings you want to promote, and then once day or so, Trulia’s web farm will request your file, parse it, and import onto their site for the whole world to see.

In my case, since I already export MLS searches via RSS (I knew writing that feature was a good idea), I merely had to spend a couple hours tweaking the output of my MLS RSS feed pages to match Trulia’s schema, register the URL on Trulia, and in 48 hours, we had listings on Trulia. And in 72 hours, I noticed referrals from Trulia was already generating about 4% of the site’s traffic!

By comparison, Google Base was easier in some respects and more cumbersome in others. The nice thing about the Google Base file format is that it is standard RSS. Or rather, it’s standard in the same way the Microsoft Word exports standard HTML. It’s RSS with a bunch of namespaced items for the custom attributes that Google Base uses for it’s Housing item type. Anyway, if you have already have an MLS RSS feed, tweaking the output to match Google’s schema is pretty straight forward. I should note that Google appeared to be more particular about the XML it gets than Trulia appeared to be, so you’ll probably be spending more time getting things onto Google Base.

The problem with Google Base isn’t creating the feed, it’s getting it up there. You see, Google Base does not download an URL like Trulia does, therefore you have to upload your data to the GooglePlex. There are 2 ways to upload your data, via a web browser or via ftp. I ended up writing a script on my server that would download a Google Base feed from my web server, and then upload it to Google in the middle of the night.

Automating Craigslist from a web page was an interesting challenge. They have a very aggressive anti-spamming policy, CAPTCHAs, have no supported way of submitting a post programatically, and the web browser’s cross domain security model certainly doesn’t make things easier. Fortunately, I found a way around everything but the CAPTCHA, but it required some IE only technology since Firefox on Windows still doesn’t support COM automation. (BTW, if any developers out there know if XUL applications on Firefox/Mozilla can accomplish everything IE based HTA’s can, drop me line. I’d love to talk with you)

After serving up listings to “the major players”, I decided to see what the beast from Redmond was up to. Turns out they want in on the action too (big surprise), and the 1-2 punch of Windows Live Expo and Live Product Upload appears to be Microsoft’s answer to both Craigslist and GoogleBase. I’ve signed up for the Live Product Upload Beta, and I’m looking forward to adding support for their service once they get their act together. It looks promising, but currently their upload service is more designed for merchants selling products, instead of real estate professionals selling homes.

Hopefully, the Live Product Upload team will correct this oversight and support multiple item types for upload. They better not wait too long to get that feature implemented, because I’ve recently discovered that Propsmart, Oodle, Edgeio, already have web feed programs in place for XML formatted listing submission. It looks like I’m going to be busy…

So, what sites do you use for listing promotion (or just reading classifieds)? looks like a promising up and comer. Anybody use to assist in your online classified ad management? Anybody using Zillow,, or Ebay for listings promotion? Is paid advertising worth the expense when the free online classified marketplace is exploding?

Watch Out Below!

While I-pods are a great way to catch up on the numerous webinars posted during working hours, they can be a bit dangerous when the listener removes themselves from the world around them. Let me give you a little example of what I mean by this.

Last weekend, my son and his pregnant (yes, I’m proud!) wife needed my husband’s (Randy) assistance updating his 1/2 bath prior to listing his home for sale.  Here’s the setup: 2 story bungalow with a basement. 2nd story bathroom directly above main floor bath using same waste pipe that drain straight down into waste pipe in basement floor. Becuase 2nd floor bath had pvc pipe and basement had the old cast iron, the best thing to do was replace the whole pipe at the same time. So, of course, they pulled the waste pipe out of the main floor bath, disconnecting the 2nd story bath from the waste pipe in the basement. All’s well and Randy is getting ready to reinstall from the 2nd floor waste to the basement by handing the pipe down to son Ryan in the basement. [photopress:ryan_and_randy_in_the_shit_hole.jpg,thumb,alignright]Great great plan, all is going well, but my lecture was over, I removed my headphones, and ran up the stairs to use the only operating bathroom in the house except that, you guessed it, one flush and whoosh, down thru the 1st floor bath directly into the face of my darling son Ryan, bounced off him and onto his computer and everything on the desk that he was working on!

 The moral of the story is: Don’t visit your son!